Your Reading List

Why not a closed-for-business wall?

The Canada-EU trade deal (nearly) crumbles, leaving seven years of negotiation in its wake

I think if Prime Minister Trudeau had any gumption at all he would build a wall to keep Americans and Belgians out of Canada. If they don’t like our trade deals we’ll just keep our scenery, oil and hockey players to ourselves. With this issue of Grainews being published on U.S. election day, I am not sure where I got the wall idea from, but it sounds reasonable to me.

But this is probably a clue why I never pursued a career in international trade negotiations or politics. Besides the fact I know nothing about it, I can be short on patience.

The European Union trade deal (known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement — CETA) apparently fell apart in late October as we were about to go to press, all because one small Belgian province, Walloon, was worried about the potential impact of the agreement on its dairy industry.

After Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland picked up her ball and tearfully headed for home indicating there was nothing more to talk about, apparently there was some eleventh-hour-59-minute talk that perhaps a deal could still be salvaged once the agreement was fully explained to Walloon — I guess they weren’t listening. So by the time you actually read this, everyone may have kissed, made up, signed the deal and cracked the champagne to celebrate completion of the agreement.

What gets me is that this deal sputtered after seven years — that’s SEVEN YEARS — of negotiations. How complex is it? Holy smokes. Who can keep their attention on one subject for seven years? You’d think Walloon could have raised its hand two, three, four or five years ago indicating it had concerns, rather than on the eve of what was supposed to be the agreement signing.

It reminded me of the surprise developments in Canadian politics in 1990 when Elijah Harper, a Manitoba MLA raised an eagle feather indicating his refusal to agree to the long-negotiated Meech Lake Accord — a document intended to amend the Canadian constitution. Harper’s action prevented the Manitoba government from giving its support to the Accord. And the Accord couldn’t pass unless all 10 provinces were on board. Harper maintained First Nations people had not been properly consulted. His feather derailed the whole process.

But back to the EU trade agreement — after seven years of negotiations which apparently had 26 countries on board, here is one small province with about 250,000 milk cows concerned the agreement might allow cheap Canadian dairy products onto its store shelves. That had me wondering how cheap are Canadian products once they do get to Europe. Is the one pound brick of no-name orange Canadian cheddar that costs me about $12 here in Calgary landing in Belgium cheaper that than, or do they call that cheap?

And on the U.S. trade front, I recently read where the U.S. found loopholes to ship certain dairy and poultry products into Canada.

The dairy product is something called diafiltered milk — apparently it is a double filtered milk product intended to be used as an ingredient in food products. But it’s being shipped into Canada and used as the “real milk” component in dairy products rather than just an ingredient, and that’s costing Canadian producers about $230 million per year.

And then on the poultry side (and this sounds a bit like my personal bookkeeping) the U.S. is shipping more spent hens into Canada for processing than it actually produces. Think about that. Under trade rules, U.S. spent hens (birds no longer producing eggs) used for soups and chicken nuggets don’t affect quotas protecting regular meat birds. So one recent year, the U.S. shipped 101 per cent of its slaughter volume. That is one very efficient system. The meat is apparently dressed up as “spent hens” but the Chicken Farmers of Canada estimate about 40 per cent of imports are illegal.

Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay is looking into both of these issues.

I wonder if anyone has every figured out what it costs to negotiate an international trade deal. The CETA deal with the EU was seven years in the making, the North American Free Trade Agreement was under discussion for about 10 years, the World Trade Organizations operates in “rounds.” The Uruguay Round lasted about eight years, the Doha Round has been underway since 2001. Nothing moves fast in the world of trade negotiations. And I doubt any of the participants are sharing rooms at the Super 8 Motel and eating at Subway while they are underway.

And as we’ve seen with Canadian beef, no sooner are the deals in place — the signing makes a great photo op — then someone is challenging, or breaking, or trying to circumvent (find a loop hole) in the agreement.

Trade deals can obviously benefit economies, but they are a lot of work. A wall is so much simpler. Or for Canada we could just build a nice sturdy 10-foot high fence made of pressure treated softwood lumber that won’t be exported to the U.S. and that would end a trade dispute that has been ongoing for 36 years with no end in sight.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.



Stories from our other publications